By Arnie Leshin
They’re off and running Friday and Saturday as the state cross country championships are being hosted this time by Albuquerque Academy. Before this, they had been run at Gallup and then Rio Rancho, but when the Rams didn’t apply, the Chargers stepped in.
Nothing like celebrating a state title at home, and Academy is favored over Los Alamos in the 4A boys championships, but the reigning champion Hillttoppers’ girls are favorited to win it again over the Chargers in what has been the usual encounter between these schools through the years.
But the first group to toe the line will be the 3A boys with a scheduled starting time of 11:30 a.m., with its girls to follow. Next comes the 4A boys and girls, the A-2A boys and girls, and then on Saturday, it’s the 5A boys and girls scheduled to start at noon.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic keeping some schools out of competing, there’s only 46 3A boys entered, five more then the girls.
And Lenny Gurule, now in his 18th year as head coach at his alma mater, St. Michael’s, has full teams in both the boys and girls, with a red-hot 8th-grader Raylee Hunt highlighting the girls. In her first year, she is unbeaten in three races, one at the Cinco Five run at Albuquerque St. Pius X, another by finishing ahead of an Albuquerque Cottonwood Classic Prep group that had won the state 3A championship, and then over Pecos senior Vanesa Dominquez, who had already won a state title and had placed in all three of her years at state.
Now Hunt is on the hunt for an unprecedented championship at state, and her biggest challenge is expected to come from Cottonwood, which will run all five of the harriers that finished behind her in this shortened XC season.
“She’s a strong runner,” says Gurule. “She just takes off and does her thing like she’s been doing it for years. One Cottonwood girl tried to overtake her in the stretch run, but she just maintained her pace and continued to the finish. I’ve had some good runners, Kate Norskog won state as an 8th-grader, but Raylee is also special for a 14-year-old.”
St. Michael’s has Hunt, but probably won’t be ahead of the pack, and that should belong to Cottonwood. The other Lady Horsemen are seniors Paris Dixson and Mia Romero, and two other 8th-graders, Lauren Barela and Lauren Patten. This is their first full qualifying in recent year, with only three making it to state in 2019 and only senior London Luttrel in last year’s field. Now she’s assisting Gurule along with Irena Ossola, who won state three times while at St. Michael’s.
But the most state individual tiles won by St. Michael’s are the four by Nokskog in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Last year’s 3A winner, Jewels Leslie, a senior, is not running this time. Neither are the two that finished behind her.
On the boys side, the Horsemen are missing their injured best runner Rowan Flores, a junior, but will race 8th-grader Jaden Prera, sophomore Irvin Loya, juniors Ryan Kuhn and Derek Martinez, and senior Dennis Ortiz, currently their top harrier.
Pecos’ girls are in 1-2A and will run Dominquez, sophomores Mistidawn Roybal and Kristina Ragland, and seniors Alexis Gonzales
Kianna Quintana. They finished second in this group last time. In 4A, Espanola Valley will have 8th-grader Hailey Renteria and sophomore Alexis Aquino. In 5A, Rio Rancho Cleveland sophomore Leah Futey will be out to defend her title.
As for the boys in 5A, Santa Fe High has qualified junior Tanner Black and senior Isaiah Velasquez. The latte r is from Santa Fe Indian School, which shut down its cross country team due to tribal rules that regarded the pandemic. So Velasquez and former teammate, Chris Humetewa, ran for their district schools.
Humetewa, who finished third the last two years in 3A, now runs for Cleveland and is hoping to again finish near the front. He finished seventh at district.
Then there’s the Pecos boys in 1-2A. Head coach Patrick Ortiz has 8th-grader Abel Strock, sophomore Israel Villegas, juniors Antonio Garcia and Derrick Romero, and senior Derek DeHerrera. In the same group, Academy of Technology and The Classics sends freshman Rocky Miller and junior Joey Gurule onto the course.
The 5A boys have the most qualifiers, 62, the girls 56. In 4A, there are 31 boys and 37 girls, In 1-2A, 44 boys and 42 girls.